Developer: CCP Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS4 (PSVR)
Rating: E for Everyone
There is something gratifying about starting a game you think for sure you are not going to enjoy, only to end up not only liking it, but loving it — even looking forward to rearranging your entire living room in order to play the game better. This is precisely what happened with Sparc, the newest competitive online virtual reality sport for PlayStation VR by developer CCP Games.
Other negative themes: There is no negative content to speak of, but like any online multiplayer title you could see other players make suggestive gestures with their MOVE controllers or with voice-chat say offensive things. Of course, it’s easy enough to mute voice-chat if offensive language becomes a problem.
The premise of Sparc is like tennis, but the goal is to hit your opponent with the ball. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. Players can grab their own ball in order to create a shield that can deflect projectiles thrown their way. Also, in the rear is a strike zone and if your opponent hits it, the size and velocity of their ball increases, meaning simply moving out of the way isn’t always your best option.
This, of course, leads to the action getting frantic rather quickly and you will have to learn to use your shield and your less dominant hand if you want to call yourself a Sparc professional. I was worn out after playing Sparc for a little over half-an-hour. It only took a few rounds become adequate at leaning and throwing with all kinds of different throws, as well as finding different areas to bounce the ball to and learning player strategies. Even in the few days Sparc has been made available, there are already some amazing players sporting some impressive skills.
Before you take to the court, however, there are a few things you should do first. You can customize your avatar with a variety of skins, colors, patterns, and head gear. Customizing your avatar is not essential, but provides a nice individualized touch to the other players you meet. Also, you want to make sure you play through at least a few of the single-player challenges to get the hang of the gameplay mechanics.
Although single-player is available, multiplayer is the main focus and it shows here. There are no AI bots to play against and if you want to get the most out of Sparc, you will need a PlayStation Plus subscription to access multiplayer. The human element is really the key to the experience and knowing you are matching your skills against a real person makes Sparc feel much more like a virtual sport. Fortunately, this is one of the few VR games to actually have a populated online community and I really had no problem with matchmaking.
There are a few different modes in Sparc, with the basic mode being the default play setting. In this mode you have the ability to punch the balls with your hands, making defense less of a concern, encouraging riskier play. Advanced mode removes the ability to punch balls, but provides more of a strategic feel like a game of chess. Finally, there is an Experimental mode which takes place on a different type of court requiring more advanced throwing techniques.
Simply throwing the ball is not as easy as it sounds, but soon after playing, it will all come together and you will feel completely powerful while also feeling defenseless all at the same time. Sparc is really all about movement with a successful block and rebound requiring to move your arm to the exact right spot, and successful dodging by bending and flexing your trunk away from an incoming ball.
While Sparc may look like a generic Tron clone, don’t be confused by the presentation. CCP Games talks about Sparc as a v-sport and it’s most definitely a sport in every sense of the word. Playing this standing up is an absolute must and two MOVE controllers are required, meaning you will be swinging your arms in all directions and breaking a sweat long before the first match is over. You will also need a good amount of space to play Sparc, roughly ten feet in front of you and about four feet on either side.
My biggest concern was with the motion tracking, and thankfully the MOVE controllers track perfectly and it was easy enough to readjust the field of vision if it became off-center. The game also has a nice minimalistic aesthetic with the graphics appearing simple and clean. The only issue I came across was the voice chat was either delayed or too static to make out what someone was saying, but luckily it didn’t ruin my experience.
Overall, I was impressed by how well the tracking was in Sparc even with using the inferior PS VR tech versus something from the Oculus or Vive. It was also refreshing to see just how much playing Sparc actually did feel like playing a sport with me getting out of breath and even sweaty during longer play sessions.
The Bottom Line
Sparc, like many other VR titles before it, has an uphill battle on its hands. The title is designed to be played, not watched, so it’s encouraged not to pass judgement before having actually played it. This is one of the few VR titles to not have any major faults regarding tracking, motion sensing, or online play, and is the one VR title not to miss out on.